Remembering to take action

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In the latest UK200Group blog post, Nick Palmer, a Strategic Business Adviser for Armstrong Watson, Accountants, Business and Financial Advisers discusses how to reap the benefits of training seminars and events.

Nick Palmer
Have you ever heard a great presentation or training seminar, been impressed by the quality of the insight or advice, but then been distracted from taking action in your own business?

During 2019, I’ve recommended a number of business seminars and events, in the knowledge that the speakers will be relevant for the clients in question. What has surprised me is the lack of action or knowledge sharing that has taken place subsequently.

Some of these seminars have been paid-for events. The company usually pays for the ticket, but it hasn’t been clear what amount of knowledge remains in the business after the event? Even with “free-to-attend” events, there’s a salary cost to have someone attend.

What chances are there for return on any investment if there isn’t an expectation that anyone will demand knowledge-sharing updates or be bothered to measure knowledge impact?

When I speak with business owners now, I ask them how they will retain this knowledge within a business after a seminar has ended? What steps will the delegate take to report back for the benefit of the company and colleagues?

Of course, for the most part I get a blank stare. Most organisations don’t have a habit of reporting back on seminar content, and because busy people have multiple demands on their time, very few people formalise a way for any new knowledge to be shared or embedded in their company.

But why is this acceptable? There are numerous examples where a company would expect enduring benefit from other types of investment. If your company paid for a software licence, you would expect the benefit to last beyond the first person to use it. Similarly with a pool car; if it failed to move the minute a second driver began to use it, you would be underwhelmed.

Even though training is delivered to the individual, the investment and benefit are anticipated at an organisational level? You might be familiar with the internet meme in which one executive asks another;

“What do we do if we invest in order to train our people, and then they leave?”

Only to receive the reply

“What if we don’t, and they stay?”

My suggestion would be invest on the condition that materials, feedback and digestible summaries are made available to the investor organisation. I’m not advocating anything that puts the training provider out of pocket (I devise events and training courses myself!) I’m not trying to pick a fight about intellectual property, but an honest feedback and summary could benefit both the employer and the training provider.

My point is that training providers and delegates retain contact after an event in order to embed knowledge, and that events are designed around learning and materials that are easy to takeaway and replicate. I think this benefits the training organisation. When their materials and events are good enough to motivate delegates, the training providers will retain contact for longer.

I’m in the process of assembling a business leaders event for February next year, and the structure is deliberately built in order to encourage follow up and contact. We’ll be using templates and examples that delegates will be expected to implement back in their own companies. I’ll be chasing them up afterwards to make sure.

The event is also designed to encourage peer-learning. Over and above the expert speakers, we want delegates to get the chance to learn from each other. There is a noticeable value to being associated with a firm of our size, and we want delegates to benefit from that network strength.

In other words, we’ve set ourselves an objective to make it easy for our delegates to secure enduring value from the events and training we create.

Most businesses will have known training that never “paid back”. On account of there not being any structure to share or embed knowledge in the weeks immediately after the event, the benefits of the knowledge capture were lost. Ironically, the theme of our event is “managing high-performance” so it would look bad if we didn’t anticipate this particular need in our planning.

Within the world of project management this idea of knowledge sharing and accountability is facilitated by regular project meetings or communication plans. These have different names according to the project management discipline in question, scrums, “walk-the-wall”, “five minutes of fame” and others, but the concept is consistent. If we don’t identify who needs to manage information, receive knowledge and act on updates, then we shouldn’t be surprised by failure.

Most communication plan templates ask you to identify an overall communication aim. Then to specify the audience, the objectives, the message, channel and timing of any communication. This is pretty simple stuff to perform, especially if it is anticipated in advance of any event as part of the business case for attending.

For some people, the rigid formality of project documentation and communications plans are “overkill”, and therefore unnecessary. However, in the case of a learning event or seminar, most business owners understand this need to record and retain information; otherwise their investment could disappear through the door at any time. A number of clients have told me recently of their need to remind their employees of the discomfort of wasting your own money:

“Would you allow investment in training to go unrecorded if it was your money? If not, don’t do it with my money!”

Paying for new knowledge is a very obvious strategic need in any business. It makes sense to protect that investment and build habits and systems that encourage the optimal sharing and adoption of knowledge. Your training provider should help you with that need.

Tags: UK200

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